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Amid fears of Canada mulling cap on international students, a look at likely impact on Indian students

The international student community in Canada is grappling with a housing crisis. As the country sees a steady increase in the number of international students and struggles to provide affordable housing options, there is growing apprehension that the government may consider a cap on the number of international students.

Any decision to this effect could have far-reaching consequences for Indians aspiring to study in Canada. Data shows that currently, over 40 per cent of the international student population migrating to Canada is from India – and a significant portion from Punjab.

As per data from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the government department that deals with matters related to immigration to Canada, refugees, and Canadian citizenship, in the last five years, more than a million Indian students have migrated to Canada for educational purposes.

The number of Indian students staying in Canada with valid study visas has gone up from 1,71,505 in 2018 to 2,18,540 in 2019, 1,79,510 in 2020, 2,16,500 in 2021, and a staggering 3,19,000 in 2022. During the same period, the overall international student population in Canada has witnessed fluctuations. In 2019, there were 6,37,860 international students, including 4,00,600 with new study permits; these numbers decreased to 5, 27,365 in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

By 2021, the numbers rose again, totalling 6,17,315 international students, including 4,44,260 with new study permits. This upward trajectory continued in 2022 with 8,07,750 international students, including 5,51,405 with new study permits – an increase of over 1 lakh new permits.

Indians mark their presence

In 2022, Canada welcomed 5 lakh international students from across the world, IRCC data reveals. Of these, 2,26,450 students (around 41 per cent) were from India. This accounts for a substantial chunk of the total international student population in the country.

The figures for this year reflect a similar trend. In the first half of 2023, Canada saw 4,34,899 international students, of which 1,75,021 (around 40 per cent) are from India, followed by Nigeria from where 43,482 students migrated in the same period – a huge gap.

During the same period last year, IRCC had approved only 2,92,376 new study permit applications.

The housing crisis and the government’s stance

As per a report by the national housing agency Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Canada needs to create 5.8 million new homes, including 2 million rental units, by 2030 to address its housing affordability crisis.

Canada’s Immigration Minister Marc Miller recently acknowledged the housing challenge with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) but did not commit to a hard cap on international student numbers. He emphasised that merely implementing a cap was not the only solution. “It isn’t solely a housing issue; it’s primarily about the integrity of the system that was mushrooming in the past couple of years,” he told CBC.

Impact on students in Punjab?

Education consultants in Punjab say that while the number of Punjabi students moving to Canada before the Covid-19 pandemic was around 60 to 70 per cent, it has dropped slightly to above 40 per cent.

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“Canada is the first choice of Punjabi students and if over 2 lakh students are going to Canada from India on study visas, over 40-45 per cent of them are from Punjab. Any cap (on student visas) will have a significant impact on Punjabi applicants,” said Gurpreet Singh, a Kapurthala-based consultant with a decade of experience in facilitating studies in Canada.

A cap on the number of International students will also impact the economy of Canada as international students pay higher fees than locals, education consultants in Punjab said.

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“If any capping on the number of students takes place, it will definitely have some impact on students from Punjab but every province has a different set of rules in Canada. There could be different rules for capping also,” said Tirath Singh of Jalandhar-based Pinnacle, an education and immigration consultancy. A cap on students could control the housing crisis and bring down skyrocketing rents, he added.

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